University of Minnesota
Department of Geography, Environment and Society

Department of Geography, Environment
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Faculty, students and staff are involved in a variety of outreach activities. These activities are undertaken through teaching, research and public service, and benefit those involved in a variety of ways. The public learns more about what the university community does and how it can benefit them, students learn to apply what they learn to real-world problems and issues, and faculty can use their research to help society to tackle social, environmental, and other problems at various scales. Undergraduate and graduates students also have the opportunity to incorporate outreach activities into their undergraduate senior projects and graduate research projects. A few examples of these efforts include:


  • The department offers a community service learning course in conjunction with some of its undergraduate thematic courses. Connie Weil and students from her courses on medical geography and Latin America, for example, provide hundreds of hours of community service each year in collaboration with Children’s Hospital, Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), and Comunidades Latinas en Servicio (CLUES). Linking community service to a traditional course encourages students to interrogate the university’s relationships with local communities, explore the ethics of citizenship, and critique what they learn in the classroom vis-à-vis first-hand observations and experiences.
  • Students in the urban geographic information science (GIS) course work with local community groups through the University Neighborhood Network to solve community problems. Robert McMaster, William Craig and Jeff Matson work with their students to use geographic information systems to examine and evaluate a wide range of community issues. The University Neighborhood Network is a program at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs that provides course-based linkages between community organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul and Twin Cities colleges and universities.
  • Some geography seminar courses include outreach activities. For example, in Spring 2007, Karen Till will teach a seminar on Space and Place that will intersect with four other courses, one of which is a community theater project for the West Bank. This effort is connected to space and place activities funded in part though the Institute for Global Studies and the Institute for Advanced Study.


GIS and Society/Public Participation GIS

A number of faculty and students undertake research in this area to examine how GIS technology impacts society. William Craig, Francis Harvey, Helga Leitner, Robert McMaster, Susanna McMaster and Eric Sheppard along with their students have worked on research projects fall within this sub-area of geographic information science.

K-12 Education

Phil Gersmehl is working with schools in north Minneapolis, Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens, east Washington, DC, western North Carolina, and Seoul Korea trying to design materials that enhance reading and math scores through carefully designed geography lessons that focus on spatial thinking and the processes of spatial representation.

Dr. Steven Manson is working on environmental education with Eco Education and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Eco Education is a NGO that collaborates with K-12 teachers on environmental education in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Dr. Manson and his students are helping to integrate 'spatial thinking' into the Eco Education curriculum through a web-based experience that combines geographic information science and community-based environmental learning. This work is part of a larger NASA-funded project on Human-Environment Geographic Information Science (HEGIS).

Public Policy

Phil Gersmehl works on the application of geospatial technologies to formulating and implementing agricultural policy, particularly with respect to land that is especially vulnerable to accelerated soil erosion.

International research

Some faculty work on international scale outreach projects. For example, Dr. Karen Till works with community groups in Berlin, Germany and Cape Town, South Africa.

Public service

Faculty, students and staff also participate in outreach through public service. Judith Martin has served on a number of committees, task forces and commissions including the Minneapolis City Planning Commission and the Minneapolis Downtown Transit Steering Committee.